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Raising the roof — and the rest of the house as well — is one way New Castle Presbytery is responding to the Matthew 25 call

Violent storms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore put an emphasis on long-term solutions

by Cindy Kohlmann, New Castle Presbytery | Special to Presbyterian News Service

A partnership that includes New Castle Presbytery is working to address the causes of climate change. (Photo courtesy of Eastern Shore Long Term Recovery Committee)

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed since 2016 a commitment to mission and ministry as guided by Matthew 25. That commitment, to building vital congregations, dismantling structural racism, and eradicating systemic poverty, is meant to move us into deeper understandings of who we are called to be as followers of Jesus Christ and how we are called to love our neighbors.

Churches have long been part of the social backbone of our communities, providing safety nets through food pantries and clothing closets, offering spaces for recovery programs to meet, and generally seeking to live into Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Such tangible offerings of love and support are sadly necessary, as the crisis of housing insecurity continues to skyrocket, food prices get higher each year, and the fabric of a stable and healthy society is more and more frayed.

The Matthew 25 vision invites us to move beyond the temporary fixes — the stop-gap solutions — into diagnosing the root causes of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and disenfranchisement, and then seek to address those causes. That doesn’t mean we close up our food pantries and shut down our assistance funds, but it does mean we work for a day when such things are needed only in times of crisis or disaster.

The Eastern Shore Long Term Recovery Committee is an outstanding example of this movement towards addressing root causes. As climate change continues to result in more violent storms, rising ocean levels, and higher tides, homes along the Eastern Shore of Maryland experience more and more flooding. If you’re fortunate enough never to have experienced such a disaster, count yourself lucky. Water is remorseless, and flood water brings mud, sewage, and utter destruction in its wake. Now imagine experiencing that regularly, not just with the “100-year storm,” but out of the blue, even on sunny days.

One response to such flooding would be to raise funds and volunteers, muck out the homes, repair and replace, and call it a day. Until next week when it happens again. And again. And again.

A Matthew 25 response, and the response that is happening in our midst, is to look at all the factors, understand what is unchangeable or at least out of local control, and find a way to solve the long-term problem. It is clear that solving climate change and rising seas is necessary but wouldn’t create a solution here and now. Relocation isn’t a real possibility for families without financial means to move and whose livelihoods keep them anchored on the Eastern Shore. So, what could a life-giving, long-term solution be?

In this case, that solution is to raise the houses so that the regular flooding can no longer bring destruction. It’s not an easy or inexpensive solution, but it preserves dignity, community, and homesteads that go back generations. And when all the factors are weighed, it’s actually the most reasonable solution.

It costs approximately $50,000 along with many volunteer hours to raise a single house. The Eastern Shore Long Term Recovery Committee has set a goal of raising 100 homes primarily in Somerset and Dorchester Counties. You can read more about this effort on the Maryland Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website.

Where do we come in as New Castle Presbytery? These are our immediate neighbors, within the bounds of the area where we do mission and ministry. Along with others, the Rev. Amy Lawrence, pastor of the Manokin Presbyterian Church in Princess Anne, Maryland, has gotten involved in the efforts, creating a direct connection to all of us. And this effort is clearly in line with our Matthew 25 commitment.

Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-moderator 223rd General Assembly

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann is Connectional Presbyter and Stated Clerk of New Castle Presbytery. She served as Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018). (Contributed photo)

To that end, the Trustees of New Castle Presbytery took two actions. First, they donated $50,000 from a mission response reserve to provide the funds to raise one house. Then, they created a $50,000 matching challenge for our presbytery to meet. Raising another $50,000 across the presbytery and matching that for a total of $100,000 means we will be directly impacting the lives of three families.

Even better, an anonymous donor has offered a $400,000 matching challenge through the Recovery Committee. That means that our anticipated $100,000 will be matched to create $200,000. That’s amazing!

Our goal is to raise our matching $50,000 by our September 21 presbytery meeting so we can celebrate what we’ve accomplished together. Let’s raise some houses!

The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann is Connectional Presbyter and Stated Clerk of New Castle Presbytery and was Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018). This article first appeared in the April 27 edition of Presbytery Pause, a supplemental publication to the presbytery’s Midweek Musings newsletter.

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